I confess that I’m breaking the rules as I write this note to you. I am one week into a three week leave, and I have been advised to truly teak a break and to focus on self-care. I confess that I find this difficult. I confess my struggling.
My plan over these weeks is to heal. The bronchitis I have been experiencing for several weeks is better, but still stubbornly present. Even so, as I heal from this, I am also working on other practices of self-care. I have been working on creative projects including baking a cheesecake for the first time and attempting to record some music. Neither of these are quite perfect, but both are proving to be life-giving. Another practice is meant to engage my physical self in challenging work.
An area of the backyard at the parsonage has a number of plants in a circle surrounding a half-dead tree. This is a favorite spot for spiders, as well as random balls and other toys that sometimes cross the fence from the neighbor’s yard. With the approval of your Board of Trustees, my plan is to remove these plants (and random playthings) and build a small fire pit out of concrete pavers. This will hopefully be a place to enjoy a campfire-like atmosphere in our beautiful San Diego climate.
In other periods of my life, I have found great spiritual joy in building or refurbishing. This has been lived out primarily in camp settings, work team projects, Habitat for Humanity, and even a brief experience with Sierra Service Project. As I began the initial steps of clearing the way for the fire pit, I found myself remembering these times and enjoying the manual labor.
With just the first quarter of the surrounding greenery removed, I was struck by the difficulty. These have grown over the years into a complicated and interwoven system of roots. It took quite a bit of effort to shovel and hack and pull free these first few plants, and I am under no illusion that the work will get easier.
Note: After the first half-hour of work, I had to go and sit down. In the 80-degree heat and with the clinging bronchitis, I was feeling light-headed and weak. Yes, I’m sure it’s just the bronchitis and surely not age or fitness.
On the second day, I found myself surprised. The work was just as difficult, though a bit more efficient with the previous day’s experience and a better understanding of the plants and roots so deeply intertwined. Just as I was asking myself theological questions about the taking of life by removing these plants, I came across a small purple bloom. It wasn’t part of the growth that I was removing, but was something completely different and completely new. In the middle of asking myself about endings, here was a new thing.
As a congregation, we are faced with the good work of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. This has grown complex for us at PB UMC as we endure change. Some are concerned that the decline we face is because of changes that I have put into place, and that may be true. Even so, change has been taking place as our attendance numbers indicate decline beginning as long as seven years ago. Perhaps we must explore the work to be done together. Perhaps we must evaluate the change already in our midst and our response. Perhaps each of us must evaluate our individual roles in all that we face as a congregation. Perhaps we must ask if we are “all in” as we heard during our Stewardship series.
Friends, the church is changing all around us. From denominational questions to the rapid decline of church attendance around the country, we face hard work. There are deep roots interwoven around structures and systems that must be examined. In doing so, we may find it necessary to cast aside some of what has been our tradition. In doing so, we may find continued difficulty in discerning where God is calling the church to go next. And in doing so, let us seek out the surprising new things that sprout in unexpected places and in unexpected ways.
See, God is doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do we not perceive it? (paraphrase of Isaiah 43:19a)